The recipe the Montreal Canadiens won with against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the spring 2010 playoffs worked again on Saturday night.
The Canadiens scored timely goals, got better goaltending and the Mike Cammalleri “factor” showed up once again as the Canadiens defeated the Penguins 3-2 at the Consol Energy Center.
In a back and forth closely matched game, Mark Letestu gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead at the 8:42 mark in the third period and the Penguins were on their way to earning their first victory of the season.
As the period progressed, Pittsburgh was faced with their first situation this season of protecting a lead, something head coach Dan Bylsma stressed this week regarding the Penguins being better prepared to close out games this year.
“I think we’ve improved with our defense and our ability to defend, and the mindset that’s something we’re going to be doing, protecting leads and winning one goal games, ” Bylsma said on Tuesday of this week.
The Penguins though were unable to close out the game and get a “big save” when needed.
Mike Cammalleri scored his second goal of game, deflecting a Jeff Halpern shot past Fleury with 2:12 remaining in the third to tie the game at 2-2 and Pittsburgh was stunned just seconds later when Canadiens center Scott Gomez scored a bad angle goal to give the Canadiens a 3-2 lead.
Gomez’s goal at the 18:12 mark was a save Fleury has to make but Bylsma and players in the locker room were trying to point the blame to system breakdowns and mistakes in the defensive zone.
Bylsma said in his post-game comments that the Penguins were too aggressive in the offensive zone, hence focus wasn’t on their D-zone play and that players shouldn’t be left off the hook for not doing their job.
“That (Gomez goal) shouldn’t let other players off the hook, ” Bylsma said. However, it’s hard to fault the Penguins for trying to push the play in the third period.
The Penguins have suffered consecutive 3-2 defeats as the team travels to New Jersey for a Monday afternoon game.
The failure to close out games was a big concern for the Penguins last season and its going to remain a concern until Fleury starts coming up with timely saves at key moments and the Penguins starting finishing plays offensively.
Failing to capitalize on their scoring opportunities has been an issue through two games. Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 38-27, including a 13-7 advantage in the third period. One league observer I spoke with this morning believes this could become a long-term problem for the Penguins.
Observers continue to point to the Penguins lack of scoring wingers as the reason for concern. Can Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz and Mike Comrie be counted on to produce consistently?
One evaluator also told me not to expect Eric Tangradi to solve the Penguins winger woes in the goal department, saying he has a ways to go in his ability to be a finesse player in around the net.
This wasn’t a knock on Tangradi but the belief is that his impact is going to be more on the little things he does such as being a front net presence and winning battles on the wall. His shooting ability and play making skills is still a developing area. That’s why in the past he’s had more success playing with third line type of players.
Observations & Analysis
*The Penguins have little confidence in their No. 6 defensemen. Ben Lovejoy as expected got in the lineup Saturday night and had just 10:44 of ice time and 9:47 at even strength. Here’s how the ice time broke down for the other 5:
1. Paul Martin – Even Strength – 18:15 | Total Ice Time – 22:08
2. Alex Goligoski – Even Strength – 13:28 | Total Ice Time – 21:56
3. Kris Letang – Even Strength – 17:51 | Total Ice Time – 21:24
4. Zbynek Michalek – Even Strength – 17:15 | Total Ice Time – 20:07
5. Brooks Orpik – Even Strength – 15:40 | Total Ice Time – 18:26
*Tyler Kennedy’s strong performance in the season opener didn’t result in any increased ice time against Montreal. Kennedy had just 8:46 of ice time which was the lowest of all players.
*The coaching staff has a lot of confidence in Mark Letestu whose role is going to continue to expand. Letestu has versatility upfront with the ability to play wing and center. He got a look in the first period with the first power play unit with Mike Comrie in the box. Where the Penguins are hopeful that Letestu’s establishes himself is in the faceoff circle.
The Penguins need a reliable right handed centerman to take key draws. That’s an area that is still developing for Letestu. He was 71.4% against Philadelphia but the Canadiens continue to cause him problems. Letestu was 6-of-13 (46.2%) on draws against Montreal.
At the moment, Pittsburgh is forced to use Sidney Crosby on the penalty kill for the sole purpose of taking face-offs.
*Zbynek Michalek matched Mike Cammalleri for just about every shift at even strength and Cammalleri got the best of the matchup. Michalek was a minus-2 in the loss.
A look at the Three Stars
1. Mike Cammalleri (Canadiens – LW): Goals: 2, Assists: 0
Buzz: Continues to haunt the Penguins and score big goals at big moments.
2. Carey Price (Canadiens – G): Saves: 36, Save Pct.: .947
Buzz: A big stepping stone for Price as the pressure has been immense after the Canadiens dealt Jaroslav Halak.
3. Mark Letestu (Penguins – C): Goals: 1, Assists: 0
Buzz: His offensive ability continues to stand out
Stat of the Day
From Elias Sports Bureau: Michael Cammalleri and Scott Gomez scored goals 24 seconds apart in the last three minutes of the third period to overcome a 2-1 deficit and give the Canadiens a 3-2 win in Pittsburgh. It’s only the second time in the last 34 seasons that Montreal has won a road game in regulation time after trailing in the final three minutes of the third period. The previous instance was also against the Penguins, though at their former home, Civic Arena, on Oct. 23, 1990. In that game defensemen Eric Desjardins and Mathieu Schneider scored the late goals that earned the Canadiens the come-from-behind victory.